Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Free Press Under Threat in Latin America

Lots of newpapers for sale here, ranging from the dominant
'El Tiempo' to the communist 'La Voz.'
Colombia came out looking pretty good in The Inter-American Press Association's year-end press release - but that's in part because of the very worrying moves against media freedom in neighboring nations.

This year 'only' one journalist was murdered in Colombia in relation with reporting, compared with 11 in Mexico, nine in Honduras and two in Brazil. The association's letter also highlighted Colombia's chuzadas scandal, in which the DAS secret police agency monitored the telephone calls of journalists and many others.

But looking at it from the positive side, the number of journalists murdered in Colombia has dropped dramatically from years past, and the DAS scandal received widespread media coverage and is being investigated by prosecutors.

Of more concern for the press association were moves by the governments of Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador  and others to repress independent media, either through laws or by creating state-controlled competing media.

All of this is not to say that Colombian media isn't threatened. Ex-President Alvaro Uribe had a habit of accusing reporters of working with terrorist groups. And the country's dominant newspaper, El Tiempo (which also owns CityTV) belongs to the family of Pres. Juan Manuel Santos (and the ex-vice president), although the paper does give solid coverage to government failures and scandals, as well as editorializing against drug prohibition. And, there are also several furiously anti-government communist papers.

Below Pres. Santos' photo, Voz newspaper
announces a 'Desolate Panorama.'
As for TV, I don't watch it, but my impression is that it's dominated by sports, violence and beauty pageants.

All of which suggests that the biggest threat to a vigorous press here may be human nature: people's obsession with sex, violence and scandal.

El Espacio newspaper, on the upper right, contributes its part to the public debate.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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